Crowds relish hot dog-eating contest at Speed Street

The smell of sunscreen was strong, and kids – many on their parent’s shoulders – beat yellow and green plastic noise sticks together above their heads at Coca-Cola Speed Street festivities on Saturday.

The crowd in front of the main stage outside the NASCAR Hall of Fame continued to grow in size and volume during the afternoon, as the state qualifier for the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest got underway as part of the day’s activities.

This was the first time the qualifying contest was held at the race festival. Onstage, a handful of speed-eaters from around the country and state competed to see who could gobble down the largest number of hot dogs in 10 minutes.

The free, multiday Speed Street event is uptown Charlotte’s NASCAR-themed festival, held in conjunction with the weekend’s Coca-Cola 600. Now in its 20th year, the festival draws thousands from around the region with food, music, vendors and race-related sponsors and activities.

Despite strong winds that toppled vendor tents and hurled trash cans around uptown Friday morning, the weather cooperated for the remainder of the festival. The temperatures remained in the 80s even after 6 p.m. Saturday, but officials said the heat hadn’t caused any reported problems with attendees.

Jane Patterson and her husband, Jason, set up portable chairs in a patch of shade near the main stage Saturday afternoon. The couple drove from Gaffney, S.C., to see the rock band 38 Special, one of several acts scheduled to perform.

Though it was their first trip to the racing festival – they stopped following NASCAR when Rusty Wallace quit driving – Jane Patterson said they would likely come again. “We’ve had a good time, there’s nothing like this in Gaffney, not this whole big thing Charlotte does.”

It was also the first time that Meka Harrell, owner of Pink Culture Inc. Mobile Boutique, participated in the festival as a vendor. Harrell used to live in Charlotte and said driving the style-and-fashion truck over from the Triad area was a no-brainer.

Even with the large crowds – official attendance numbers were still being figured Saturday – Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reported no major incidents related to the event.